Rock Hill, Clemson star Hugh Mauldin was ‘toughest football player there ever was’

05/19/2014 5:16 PM

05/20/2014 12:16 PM

Of all the tough football players to come out of Rock Hill – including more than a dozen who played in the NFL – the farm kid from Lesslie nicknamed “Mustang” and “Motor” just might have been the toughest.

Hugh Mauldin, a star at Clemson University in the mid-1960s, died Saturday after a stroke. He was 69.

Anybody who ever saw Mauldin carry a football through an opposing line like a tank charging roughshod through a minefield will never forget it.

He was “Motor” because his lips made a motoring sound as he ran through, around and right over the larger opposition.

He was “Mustang” because he ran with such abandon, such wild strength and speed, that other Clemson players said it sounded like a wild horse about to trample some unlucky baby blue Tar Heel or Blue Devil under his hooves.

Mauldin at his largest in college was just 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 180 pounds. Yet No. 40, in the jersey covered with blood and spit and dirt, hammered the foe with bone-crunching hits and blocks and tackles in an era when many players played offense, defense and special teams. Mauldin even punted and kicked and ran back punts and kickoffs.

“There was one game Hugh got cut over his eye, and the blood was pouring down over his face,” said Thomas Ray of Rock Hill, Clemson’s quarterback from 1963 to 1965 – the seasons Mauldin was tailback and rushed for more than 1,150 yards, earning all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. “I told him he would have to go out of the game and he said no. Finally, we threatened him and he went off, got doctored up and came back and played the rest of the game.

“A hard-nosed, tough, tough player. As tough as there was in those days.”

Mauldin earned third-team All-America honors in 1965, his senior season, but this is a guy whose football career was not measured by statistics. He had to hitchhike to college from his family’s Lesslie farm, despite having been recruited by college powerhouses including Alabama and Florida State after starring in football, track and baseball at Rock Hill High School.

But before Mauldin could play any of those sports, he had to milk cows. And he ran to school and back – seven miles, each way.

Despite his size, Mauldin took all-state honors in football and track and played in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star football game. He was among the greatest football players and scorers in Rock Hill High history.

“Still, though, my father arrived at Clemson 158 pounds,” said Jeff Mauldin, one of Mauldin’s three children. “Most players even then were far bigger.”

Within days, Mauldin showed Clemson why he had been recruited all over the South to play college football. His freshman year, he hit everything in sight, going from last on the depth chart to playing on defense, then getting playing time on offense and special teams, too.

But he was still a farm boy from outside Rock Hill, and Clemson was a long way from home. The first time his parents made it to Clemson for a game – in those days before interstate highways – they were walking into the stadium when the announcer roared, “Hugh Mauldin has just run the opening kickoff back for a touchdown!”

After a terrific Clemson career, Mauldin played a couple of seasons of professional football in an upstart league, then worked for decades in the Atlanta area, selling veterinary products. He coached football and baseball and always taught young players that, above all, effort mattered. He taught his kids – Jeff, Tim and Amy – and his players that the size of the player wasn’t as important as the size of the heart.

Mauldin, who lived his final years in Fort Lawn, was inducted into the York County Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He is on the ballot this year for induction into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame. For decades, people would stop him in Rock Hill and around the state and ask: “Are you that Hugh Mauldin who was so fast and tough?”

Mauldin would grin and say yes, but not talk much more about it. Humility meant a lot to this football star.

And for all his adult life, Mauldin loved Clemson. He drove an orange and purple pickup. The front door of his home was painted orange and purple.

“He bled Clemson orange,” said Clydeanne Mauldin, Mauldin’s second wife, who works as a nurse in a nursing home.

They had been high school sweethearts but married other people and started families. They reunited several years ago, more than 40 years after graduation.

Clydeanne Mauldin found out how much Hugh Mauldin means in the lore of Rock Hill and Clemson football when one of her patients, hearing her last name, asked if she knew Hugh Mauldin. She said she did, and that, in fact, he was her husband.

The patient said: “Your husband was the best and toughest football player there ever was.”

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